Another year of phenomenal racing has concluded in Ontario and while we have been a fan of the races for many years, 2017 stands out among all the others. This would be the year that reigning leading Trainer Mark Casse was surpassed by Norm McKnight in win standings and while the latter didn’t have any stake wins in that total, this is a sign of change and mobility on the circuit. We are seeing up-and-coming names like Denyse McClachrie, Martin Drexler and Tony Gattelaro make their presence known, the former two landing in the year-end Top Ten standings at Woodbine. Also more than ever, females – equine and human – are front and center in the sport.
The caliber of horses in Ontario has never been stronger. While undisputed Woodbine star PINKLLOYD had a flawless seven-race stakes win streak in 2017, there were many other heroes who rose. Some used racing at Woodbine as a springboard to success abroad whether it be on the track or in the sales ring where they’d begin the next stage of their careers in the breeding shed. Need we mention the likes of Tepin, Quidura, River Maid, Catch a Glimpse, Mississippi Delta, Crowley’s Law, Dacita, Moonlight Sky and Enstone, all Woodbine-raced and selling for a substantial sum at the November Sales in Kentucky?
Fillies and mares shined and among them fittingly-named WONDER GADOT, a namesake of Actress Gal Gadot and her revered Wonder Woman role, would perform well at the Breeders’ Cup en route to a victory in the Grade II Demoiselle at Aqueduct. Her two-year-old filly stablemates WIN THE WAR and ROAD TO VICTORY also would turn heads with flashy stakes scores, the latter winning the Grade II Golden Rod at Churchill Downs.
Trainers Josie Carroll, Barb Minshall and Catherine Day Phillips also had so much talent among their trainees that the Sovereign Awards honouring Canada’s best in Horse Racing, will prove rather tough for voters. Carroll‘s AMI’S MESA would make us proud almost taking home the top prize in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint under LuisContreras but stablemates MOONLIT PROMISE and GAMBLE’S GHOST also would find stakes success this year, the former going undefeated in 2017. Day Phillips had a superb year with several stars in her barn like Mr. Havercamp, Financial Recovery and Guy Caballero, but her DIXIE MOON would crush the boys in the important Cup and Saucer Stakes before faring respectably at the Breeders’ Cup, having just enough left to win the Ontario Lassie late in the year. Watch out for the immensely-fast GRACE AND DIGNITY, one of the quickest fillies we’ve seen here in years who’s knocking on the door of greatness. We also cannot forget BarbMinshall’s stellar two-year-olds ADMIRALTY PIER and DREAM IT IS, the outstanding Shackleford filly who slayed the competition at Saratoga in the Grade III Schuylerville this summer. The runner-up in that race went on to perform well in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf.
The Queen’s Plate is confirmed for Saturday, June 30, 2018 with Country Star Brad Paisley set to take the stage the night before at Woodbine. The historic race looks a wide open affair at this point with several making a case for their potential including JohnRoss and Jack of HeartsRacing’s Coronation Futurity winner AHEADBYACENTURY (named after TheTragically Hip hit). Ken & Sarah Ramsey’s HEMPHEMPHURRAY fared well in the Grade I SummerStakes at Woodbine and has yet to run on anything but grass. His connections certainly know how to win the race having taken the 2016 edition with Sir Dudley Digges.
SILENT STING also just nabbed the Kingarvie Stakes for Sid Attard and Stronach Stables, the latter of course scoring a 2017 Woodbine Oaks-Plate double with exceptional filly HOLY HELENA. Any other year she would be a cinch for Horse of the Year if it weren’t for an exceptional year.
Chiefswood Stables’ PIPERS WARRIOR seems to be improving into an athlete of note for Trainer Mike DePaulo. FLAMEAWAY found success at Saratoga also in the Skidmore Stakes for Mark Casse and comes into 2018 with a real shot at Plate glory with stablemates NEEPAWA and ROSE’S VISION, the latter two owned also by Chiefswood Stables.
Iconic Sam-Son Farms have a couple interesting possibilities with talented two-year-olds, the blue-blooded Tapit colt STRIKE ME DOWN who is based in the U.S. and also promising gelding KITTEN’S BOY.
2017 was a year of many emotions. These are my top moments in Ontario Thoroughbred Racing seen through my lens.
See you 2018? Happy Holidays!
(Photo/video credit: Mr. Will Wong | Audio: Sony Music Entertainment)